“You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it” – Margaret Thatcher
How does that saying go? “Two steps forward and one step back”, or something like that. If only it were true. Problem is, the adage implies a measure of progress. Two forward, one back – that means you have at least seen a net movement forward of one step, right? For most of us this just isn’t true. “Two steps forward, two steps back” is more appropriate. Or maybe even “One step forward, two steps back”. Either way, we all face this challenge from time to time, where every measure of progress forward seems to be met with setbacks, and we find ourselves back to square one working to regain ground we previously held, then lost.
I recall a humorous story I’ve told before about my time building a global contingent workforce management (otherwise known as MSP) business at TAPFIN. At the time, we had developed a fantastic business model in North America and in key countries in Northern Europe, and the mandate was to expand in to other key markets – in this case, France. The growth of the MSP model was just beginning to take shape, and Europe was the new frontier. We had a base of business in the UK, Belgium, and The Netherlands, but France was by far the largest staffing market in Europe. And we wanted our piece of the pie.
I was fortunate in being asked to build a business within an existing infrastructure, allowing me the opportunity to leverage existing resources for this new business. To expand in to France, I needed to convince management of the value of this new offering. Our success in the US and other parts of Europe was clear, and the profitability compelling. And with the blueprint for both sales and operations in hand, certainly my colleagues running France would see the value quickly and jump on the chance to build this business. At least that’s what I thought.
I recall my first meeting with the head of their solutions practice (the most logical business line in which to build this offering). Unfortunately, the discussions were not as simple as I had planned. Four hours of debate ensued over the legality of this offering in France. Four hours! And what’s worse is there were numerous examples of competitors who had already formed MSP’s in that same market. Argh!!! But we found common ground, and the last hour was spent mapping out the plan for building this business. Success, right?
Not so fast. Two months later I returned to France to check on progress, once again meeting with the same head of their solutions practice. I still remember his opening comments from that meeting. “MSP’s are illegal in France”, he proclaims. Are you kidding me? Didn’t we spend four hours in our last meeting debating this point only to agree it was not? And so once again I spend another four hours discussing the legitimacy of this offering in France – citing the same arguments as before. “You are right”, he finally agreed, and again we confirm the plans to build the practice. Persist and overcome. Success, right?
No, I am not kidding. I waited only one month later to return and check on progress. Again I was met with the very same message – “MSP’s are illegal in France”. And again, I found myself in an hours long debate over the very same subject we had already discussed – and agreed on – before. This time I wanted to scream. I could literally feel myself shaking inside as I tried to maintain a professional tone in the face of what was clearly becoming a battle. But just as the gentle flow of a river can create a magnificent wonder like the Grand Canyon, I maintained my composure and proceeded once again to explain the value and legitimacy of this practice. And in this case, the third time was a charm. The TAPFIN MSP offering in France finally took hold, and at that point the business took shape and grew.
I tell this story for two purposes: 1) in retrospect it was a humorous experience to endure, and 2) just as Margaret Thatcher says, “you may have to fight a battle more than once to win it”. Today the French TAPFIN offering is an important and vital part of their global operations. And I’m proud to have persisted to get it started.
From time to time, all of us find ourselves in this same situation. We build a book of business to a sustainable level, only to have it lost to circumstances outside our control. We work diligently to finally get the nod on a new account, only to have administrative processes (contract agreements, etc) prevent us from closing the business. We close candidates on job orders only to have them back out after they’ve already accepted the position. We develop ideas in to business plans, present them, then find out that leadership has taken a different direction.
I could site a million other examples – but you get the point. Things happen outside of our control. We take two steps forward only to take the same steps back. Will you let it get you down? Will you give up? Or will you get back on that saddle and try again? Persist, and overcome…